OK, this week, we’re going to try something a little different: a column within a column. Recently, Bob “Stormy” Weathers, who for many years was the successful and colorful basketball coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, passed away. Soon after, my friend Mike Wixon, who played for Coach Weathers, wrote a touching remembrance of his former mentor to share with friends and the MGCCC community. Now, I’d like to share that message with you. Mike not only hit the court for Coach Weathers, but was also an excellent sports editor for the Mississippi Press for quite some time, so this piece is particularly well done. Read and enjoy.
He had the perfect name for a coach … Bob “Stormy’’ Weathers. But it wasn’t his surname that led to his nickname, it was his volcanic coaching style and the fear he instilled in his basketball players for 42 years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Coach Weathers was laid to rest Oct. 1 in Wiggins, MS, with hundreds of family, friends and former players in attendance to pay respects to Coach, wife Tommie of 62 years and son Wendell, who replaced his dad as coach of the Bulldogs.
The pastor said Coach Bob is sitting on a bench in Heaven today coaching sons Little Bob and Tony, who preceded their dad in death several years ago in separate tragic car wrecks. I imagine Coach is telling them they need to hustle more and practice their free throws. Always the coach.
Ask just about any former player if they feared Weathers during their playing days and almost to a man they will say, “Feared? More like petrified.’’
At the funeral I told one former player, Tyrone Patterson of Pascagoula, that I was so scared of Coach my first year that I would walk the other way if I saw him coming. “Me too, me too,’’ Patterson said with a big laugh.
Weathers with just a glance could strike fear into a player’s heart. And his salty language would challenge every aspect of your manhood. It was his way of motivating us, pushing us, making us become better players and understand the meaning of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.
We didn’t know it at the time, but those lessons became part of each one of us.
Some will measure Weathers coaching by the wins and losses, the championships or awards. But seeing grown men cry at the funeral of a man who made them work beyond what they thought they could endure is the true measure of Coach.
One of Weathers former players, Oliver “Butch’’ Bracks told me, “He took a chance on me when nobody else would.’’ Bracks, a poor black kid from Lucedale, added, “He made me a better man. I love that man.’’
I was fortunate to play for Weathers and to cover him as a young sportswriter at the Mississippi Press. It was interesting to analyze Coach and his teams from a reporter’s perspective. Still he didn’t let his guard down. His teams could have always played better or made too many mistakes, even after victories.
My first week at what we all called Perk back in 1971 I was a scared, painfully skinny forward from Pascagoula. At our first practice I looked around at guys who were bigger, stronger and could jump higher. I thought, “I want to go home.’’
After a few weeks of practice Weathers called me aside and I thought, “Oh, no, what have I done now.’’ I expected Coach to grab me by the jersey and proceed to give me a tongue blistering. Instead, he said, “Son, you can play this game. You’ve just got to believe in yourself. You are just as good as these guys if you want to be.’’ Then he slapped me on the butt and said, “Now get your ass in gear.’’
I said, “Yes sir,’’ with a smile and new-found confidence. That carried me through my two years as a starter and being co-captain my sophomore year with Sammy Smith. It’s one of the greatest honors of my life.
Weathers was as old school as they come. He believed in defense, taking charges and diving on loose balls as cornerstones of the game. Practices often centered around those drills … and running, and running, and running.
Once during drills for taking charge fouls a player said while waiting for his turn, “If I wanted to do this I would have gone out for football.’’ Coach heard him and exploded then told the offending player to run laps until practice was over. That player never took to the drill and saw little playing time.
The loose balls drills were another test of manhood. Coach would take a rack of balls, roll one on the floor and we’d take turns diving on them. Another player who had all the talent to go with his 6-foot-9 height didn’t like drill. He would never dive. He’d reach for the ball, go down on one knee then roll over. He saw little playing time.
Weathers coaching style changed with the times. It had to as society changed. He quit dictating the length of hair. Butt chewings for missing a 25-footer in the day before the 3-point shot became vogue, became butt chewings for failure to take an open 3-pointer. All white teams became predominately black teams. And the wins continued.
The man who made us suffer, who put us through immeasurable pain, became an old softie to his former players. He loved sharing memories and visiting with his former players when they would show up for games or at his home.
He had the amazing ability to remember every player’s name, where they were from and what years they played for him. But he would quickly let us know who was still the boss … still the coach. He would bring up a game or play where one of us failed to perform to his expectations, or their ability. He loved rubbing it in and we loved giving it back.
A couple years ago a group of former players surprised Coach at his home. As much as we enjoyed reminiscing and shooting the bull, Coach enjoyed it more. He stood up and looked each one of us in the eye and said how much we had all meant to him and that he loved us all. I think of that day often and it always brings me to tears.
The cemetery was hot and sweating just like practices. The pallbearers had to carry Coach’s casket down a hill to his grave site. One of the honorary pallbearers observing the scene from the hillside said with a chuckle, “Leave it to coach to make ‘em sweat even when he’s gone.’’
So there you have it, a personal and meaningful look back at a man who affected many people’s lives. I appreciate Mike offering this up for our enjoyment. This story just serves to remind us how coaches, teachers, and many others can make a difference in our formative years and beyond.